Building A Secure Data Economy: An Interview with Ocean Protocol's Founder Bruce Pon
Technology Lawyer working on code and everything law.
Founder : Blockchain Research
Ocean Protocol is technology that allows data sharing in a safe, secure and transparent manner without any central intermediary. Using Ocean Protocol, data scientists and artificial intelligence researchers can unlock and analyze big data, while respecting data privacy.
1. Hi Bruce, welcome to our series “Behind the Startup”. Tell us
about your story and your journey into the blockchain industry?
We started about six years ago on this idea of - can you turn data and intellectual property into an asset using blockchain technology? I saw that people lacked access to capital because they didn’t have assets that could be financialized. A book written by Hernando de Soto called "The Mystery of Capital" pointed to a solution. What he talked about was that there's a lot of lands that you can't monetize because you don't have a title. If people could get title to their land, it would open up opportunities for everyone to financialize their main asset -- their home. Blockchain allowed us to extend the idea of putting a title on land onto the intellectual property. If you could give people titles to their intellectual property and their data using blockchain, you might be able to monetize it.
For me, this was very powerful because, in a future where AI, big data and large corporations and governments have so much power, we need to be able to give every single individual control over their ideas. We need to give people the ability to add value in a society, the ability to take their ideas and sell them in a way that's borderless and global, and the ability to own their data and control where it goes and to who gets to see it.
2. Tell us about the story behind Ocean Protocol – How did you start the company and what is your vision?
Ocean Protocol came out with the idea of giving people back control of their ideas and their data. Data is so valuable and can help to solve the world’s hardest problems, like the current challenge to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. To solve these problems, the data needs to be unlocked. People are scared to share data because they’re scared to lose control. The Ocean can solve this trust challenge, using blockchain technology, to enable data to be exchanged, safely and securely while keeping privacy. Upon this technology, we can start to build an open data
economy that gives people more power and control.
3. Can you explain how Ocean Protocol and its ecosystem functions in layman’s terms?
Right now, anyone can type in www.nytimes.com
and land at the New York Times website. Like a storefront window, you can see the headlines of every article. But to actually read an article, you need first to pay for a subscription using Paypal or a credit card, and then you can access as many articles as you want. Paypal and credit cards run on complex, expensive financial infrastructure across multiple intermediaries that makes a series of connections between the NYTimes website and your bank account. Ocean technology allows this transaction to be done differently, more simply and with far fewer intermediaries. Imagine if instead, readers could read a single article in exchange for a micropayment of $0.05. Using a global network of computers, a consumer from anywhere on earth can buy an access token to an article and pay for it using a cryptographic token. This approach preserves the privacy of the reader’s identity and financial details while giving the NYTimes the ability to earn more money with fine-grained access control to their news stories.
We are applying this technology for data sharing because it’s an area that we understand well. Data comes in from IoT devices, cameras, phones, watches, sensors, and cars and it's going to float through the Ocean technology, which allows users to manage access rights and permissions - who gets to see what, under what conditions. AI researchers will discover the data, adhere to the conditions of use and then use the data to find cures for diseases, improve the safety of self-driving cars, and make cities smarter. Ideally, Ocean activates an open Data Economy, where data is exposed and pooled for consumption while respecting the data owners’ rights
4. How does Ocean Protocol ensure that the data being entered is
free from bias?
We are seeing more and more that information platforms like Facebook and Google do have biases that can be gamed for widespread political, economic and social engineering. Because these platforms are controlled by a single entity, the responsibility to police this bias lies with the platform.
Ocean doesn’t put any controls on data nor does it check for quality. The data is provided by a source. Both the data and the source need to be verified over time through reputation and curation by users. One of the criteria for quality and high reliability might be that the data is free from bias. So just like a highly competent and fair merchant on Amazon might develop a high rating and reputation, it will take time in the Ocean ecosystem for data providers to earn a reputation for providing high-quality data as well.
5. How does Ocean Protocol ensure network security and safety, so no data leak takes place?
There are four possible points of vulnerability when using Ocean technology: the Ethereum network, Solidity (the coding language), Ocean tech itself, and how organizations use Ocean tech. In regards to the first three, there are worldwide communities of developers who are using and testing these technologies. With continued use comes bug fixes, security upgrades and the maturation of the code quality. For organizations using Ocean technology, the element of human intention and error comes into play. There are many ways that data can leak, but just like any new technology, confidence that attack vectors are closed rises with time, usage and strengthening by a global community of users.
6. According to you, how important is blockchain to empower and
Blockchain is the missing piece for the internet. It represents an ownership layer that empowers people to own, control and protect their data. In the original designs for the internet, “ownership” of data was baked in. But this was the 1960’s and the architecture proposed at that time was too heavy for the state of technology to support. It wasn’t until the development of advanced databases, cryptography and game theory in the 1980s that blockchain could arise as a general-purpose technology. It comes at the perfect time where AI is pacing forward and integrating into our lives, data is viewed as an asset that should be given to rightful owners and the challenges facing humanity are global in scale.
7. In what sectors is the Ocean team working and what other use cases do you see for the technology?
Ocean has been working mainly in the automotive, health and logistics industries. We’ve announced partnerships with dexFreight, a US-based logistics provider that is monetizing their data and making it available for others to optimize routing and deliveries. With Zühlke, we are charting a path to support health and diagnostic use cases. Our deepest involvement has been with the automotive sector. Given that many team members are in the heart of Germany, we’ve had the chance to interact with the automotive ecosystem to prove data-sharing capabilities.
8. What are your views on the debate around data privacy and current worldwide regulations regarding data protection? Further, how is Ocean Protocol compliant with current regulations, for example, EU GDPR?
At the core of Ocean is the idea, if a price can be put on data, the rightful owners will take an active interest to protect it. Our mission is to give people back control of their data so that anyone can participate in an emerging data economy. Our vision is complementary to GDPR, which holds that a person’s right to their data is inviolable. Practically, Ocean supports GDPR by giving people the tools to define the conditions for others to access their data, and enforce the conditions without prejudice and bias that comes with a centralized platform.
9. What business strategy is Ocean Protocol implementing for the
survival of the foundation and the ecosystem?
From the very beginning, we committed that Ocean will be built for the global community. Control of the protocol will be gradually handed over to community members as the technology and ecosystem become more mature. As part of the sustainability of the ecosystem, the foundation has a significant number of Ocean tokens available to fund developers to continue work on the core technology and encourage developers to build applications. Early initiatives to test out grants of Ocean tokens to community members include developer grants via Gitcoin and Bounties network, the Ocean Data Economy Challenge, participation in hackathons around Europe and activation of the Ocean Ambassadors.
10. According to you, what makes Ocean team different and who are your major competitors?
The Ocean team members have some of the deepest experience in the blockchain space while having previous experience with data and AI. Few teams on earth understand both blockchain and data/AI so comprehensively. With almost every project that we encounter, we seek ways to collaborate and leverage team strengths. We don’t see competitors because the space is so large and the work to do is so immense. Everyone wins when the best ideas are worked on and the community comes together. Once the ecosystem and technology are more established, and thousands of companies are working in the space, then we’ve already won in a sense because our hypothesis that a Data Economy is ripe to be activated, has been validated.
11. How has the pandemic Covid-19 affected the operations of your company? What is your advice to other entrepreneurs facing the Covid-19 pandemic?
Given our base in Singapore, we’ve been highly sensitized to Covid-19 since mid-January. We took heed and started planning for the worst. Our team has been encouraged to work remotely for the last few weeks. Each team member has diligently adhered to social distancing and self-isolation measures.
In the short term, Ocean is a founding organizer of COVIDathon, the world’s first decentralized AI hackathon powered by DAIA, to support the medical community against the coronavirus and limit its spread. We want people to develop and launch open-source code and tools, informed by medical, AI, and blockchain experts and principles, to reduce the risk of outbreaks in the future, and cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the core, we need to deliver Ocean to the community because it provides a path for people to share their data in a world where governments may use Covid-19 as a reason to infringe on data privacy. Temporary measures to restrict freedom and liberty can easily become permanent measures. The sooner we can get Ocean more mature
and easy to use, the sooner people can push back with alternatives to the
inevitable power grab of many governments to surveil citizens.
12. Can you enlighten readers about the companies' ongoing business and technological partnerships? Further, how has the overall response and experience been for the team and where do you see the company in the next 2 years?
Ocean needs to be a community project. To this end, we have activated an ecosystem of developers, ambassadors and channel partners who can assume many of the functions of the current foundation. The sooner we can give Ocean it’s own legs, the more sustainable and scalable the project will be.
Let me give an example. We get many inquiries from enterprises that want to use Ocean technology. Over the past year, we built prototypes within the core team. In 2020, we’ve extended the model to include channel partners like Protofire and DAC directly into the projects, with the intent to hand the projects over to the channel partners as soon as reasonable. This model works because channel partners see a business opportunity to invest their time and energy to develop a new capability. Ocean ecosystem wins by having another committed community member and the core
team can focus on the base technology and critical features.
We’re proud to work with Zühlke, an established solution provider for pharma, medtech, and life science companies to build an open health Data Economy, where patient data privacy is a cornerstone to protect. With dexFreight, we partnered to build the first Web3 data marketplace for the logistics industry, with a target launch of April 2020. There will be more announcements of partners and projects in the coming months. The growth of our ecosystem means the expansion of an open data economy.
The purpose of this article is to remove informational asymmetry existing today in our digital markets by performing due diligence and to equip readers with better opinions to make informed decisions. The views in
these articles are purely personal and educational, the article does not
constitute any investment or legal advice. Please do your research before
investing in digital assets or tokens. The writer does not have any business relationship or any vested interest in the project.
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